I was 19 years old when my grandpa died. I flew from Nova Scotia, where I was studying English Literature and Philosophy, to Vancouver Island to attend the first funeral of my life. It seemed odd to not have known anyone who had died before this. It was 1999, and everything was shifting.
My grandma mourned this change in many ways. Not able to fully understand at times, that he would not be coming home for dinner, or watching the stock markets on TV again, and yet rejoicing that she had space and freedom like never before. She decided abruptly to get rid of everything that he had once owned, clearing his closets before a week had even passed. She became a bit nervous in life after this, and managed to catch fire to her kitchen, affording her a new paint job and art work for her walls for the first time since I’d know her; something she would never have been so frivolous to purchase without insurance picking up the bill.
My grandma, you see, survived the dirty ’30’s as one of twelve kids on a farm on the Canadian prairies. Her family was from Quebec, but as A child she was raised in Saskatchewan, where she felt endlessly tormented by having a French accent. In her family, you got to attend school if the shoes fit, literally, as there were not enough pairs for all of the kids. This worked out to be about every other year, although she never attended school past grade three. Up until her 90th birthday she would boastfully tell people about her degree in C.S., intriguing her waiting audience with a long pause.
“And what is a bachelor of C.S.?” One would ask undoubtedly.
“Common Sense.” She would ever so proudly reply. She loved this line, cherished it really, and would charm and delight every visitor with her wry humour.
As a child, I remember watching my grandma save up the little scraps of soap as the bar wore down, until she had enough to melt them all together to make a new bar. So crafty. She’d cut buttons off of pants and shirts that had been repaired one too many times, and would put these treasures in her great big button jar; a collection so unique and fascinating that my kids still play with them. More recently, she would feel so tickled when her son-in-law would arrive to pick her up in his fancy, modern red volvo (a make and colour of vehicle she cherished) and would let her sit in the front seat. Together they’d drive to Tim Horton’s where he would treat her to a free donut and coffee.
“My bags are packed” or “I only buy ripe bananas” were some of the ways she’d let us know, again and again it seemed, that she was ready for the next stage.
“So what is it grandma? Why are you still here?”
And while she couldn’t answer this question, I understood it wasn’t because she didn’t know the answer, or didn’t have the words. She wasn’t afraid of death; in fact she’d been next to many people as they passed. I began to understand, through her lack of words, that she was staying for every one else’s sake. Comforting them, even when her body was tired and her ears were blocking out most conversations. She didn’t want to abandon the living, as perhaps she had felt abandoned by others who’d left.
Right ‘til the end she was generous in spirit and actions, charming, and cheap! I love you grandma, and always will.